Monthly Archives: August 2016

Bloody Witness

August 2016 Pulse

In November 2010, Fr. Christian Mbusa Bakulene and a parish worker were walking to St. John the Baptist Church in Kanyabayonga in the province of North Kivu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when two armed men in combat fatigue stopped them and asked: “Which one of you is the priest?” They shot Fr. Bakulene and walked away, leaving his companion unharmed.

This is just one of the many random cases of persecution that Christians are facing all over the world today. They are the tip of the tip of a very large iceberg.

Most Christians in the West and in countries like Singapore are not even aware of the extent of the problem and the plight of our brothers and sisters in many countries across the globe.

Here are the facts.

More Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th century than all the previous centuries combined. According to the world’s leading demographers of religion David B. Barrett and Todd Johnson, out of the 70 million martyrs since the time of Christ, about 45 million died for their faith in the 20th century.

About 80 per cent of all acts of discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Martin Lessenthin, the chairman of the International Society for Human Rights who made this report in 2009, pointed out that other human rights observatories have confirmed this estimate.

In its September 2012 report, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a highly-respected secular think- tank based in Washington D.C., stated that in the period between 2006 and 2010, Christians were harassed in 139 nations – three-quarters of the nations in the world.

One of the most prominent organisations that tracks anti-Christian persecution is Open Doors, an evangelical advocacy and relief organisation. According to its report, about 100 million Christians today suffer violent persecution for their faith, making Christians the most high-risk group for religious freedom violations.

The annual ‘Status of Global Mission’ report published by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that about 100,000 to 150,000 Christians are killed each year for their faith.

In 2012, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was established in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, names the following countries with the worst records for the violation of religious freedom: Burma, China, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. And the people that suffered the most violations in all these countries are Christians.

It would be a mistake to think that Christians are persecuted only when they are in the demographic minority. Just think of Russia, the Ukraine, and parts of Latin America where persecution is rife even though the majority of the population is Christian.

In his book, The Global War on Christians, John Allen Jr. explains why such a myth is toxic: “It obscures large swaths of the planet from view in thinking about the threats that Christians face, and suggests a false sense of invulnerability for Christians in societies where they represent the majority.”

There are Christian human rights organisations like Open Doors and Christian Freedom International that are helping persecuted Christians in different parts of the world. But religious persecution in the modern world is so complex that there is a limit to what NGOs and non-profit organisations can do to address the problem.

The Church must pray for her persecuted and suffering members. She must pray not only for them to be delivered, but also for them to be faithful.

In his moving account of Catholic martyrs in the 20th century, Robert Royal writes poignantly: “Martyrdom is in a deep sense the paradigm for the Christian life. Any person who starts to follow the Master seriously cannot help but find himself or herself attacked by the same forces that attacked him. Happy is the age that does not produce a large crop of martyrs. But even happier is the age whose people are willing to remain with Christ whether it means martyrdom or not, for from that willingness to die springs everything that makes it worthwhile to live.”


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was published in the March 2016 issue of the Methodist Message.

 

 

Art and Meaning

August 2016 Pulse

In his profound study on symbols and the sacred, the Catholic religious philosopher Louis Dupré observes that for the longest stretch of human history art and religion are inseparable. Changes in cultural sensibilities, however, have caused the two to drift apart.

‘A heightened sense of transcendence and an increasing secularization separated the two to a point where art could be without being sacred and where religion developed some of its symbols outside the range of aesthetics’, writes Dupré.

That art and religion are so closely related to one another should not surprise us. Cultural anthropologists have long noticed that art and religion seem to have the same roots. And even though aesthetic and religious symbols are in some important sense different, they enjoy such close affinity that they affect each other, often in creative and surprising ways.

From the standpoint of theology, the basis and the possibility of human art is the creation, fashioned lovingly and purposefully by its Creator. As The Hispanic theologian Alejandro García-Rivera explains: ‘Art’s theological dimension has its origin in God’s own art, the natural beauty of Creation’.

Creation’s beauty reflects the beauty of its Creator, for as theologians like von Balthasar have pointed out God’s glory is his beauty. The beauty of the world, through which the beauty of God is revealed, is a creaturely beauty that transforms the beholder – it is a beauty that in some real sense demands a decision, a conversion.

Furthermore, it is important to note that human beings are themselves part of God’s art. Thus as García-Rivera has perceptively pointed out, in contemplating the beauty of the world, ‘the human creature catches an intriguing and wondrous glimpse of itself.’

Perhaps the distance that modernity has created between art and religion can be attributed to its lost of the sense of true beauty. This has two adverse results: the inability to recognize beauty’s intrinsic value and a morbid preference for the banal. This is the constant lament of the British philosopher Roger Scruton in his thoughtful book, Beauty.

Insofar as beauty – together with truth and goodness – is a transcendental, the secularization of art in modern and post-modern culture may be characterized as the lost of the sense of those universal qualities that belong to the very essence of being itself.

This eclipse of the transcendentals has caused modern art to lose touch with reality itself, plunging it into the barrenness of what some have called an ‘aesthetic nominalism’, where art becomes merely a celebration of the individuality of the artist. We see this in the baneful iconoclasms of Duchamp and Picasso.

Such ‘art’, in fact, spells the end of art. The great art critic, Ernst Gombrich is therefore quite right to characterise the modern predicament thus: ‘There is no such thing as “art”. There are only individual artists’.

It is only when beauty is returned to art – or to put it the other way around, it is only when art begins to take the transcendentals seriously – will art begin once again to be in touch with reality. And when art does that, it will in different ways attempt to give form to the transcendental mystery.

Only such art may achieve ‘an evocation of the sense of the absolutely unknowable’, writes Joseph Campbell. This is especially true for religious art; but it can also be the case for any form of art, as long as it is good art (in the way that we have sought to defined it here).

Art that seeks to penetrate and interpret the real can therefore be a kind of prophetic word – speaking a visible word and with an articulate image – raising its image-voice against some of the ills of our society. And as Karen Stone has put it so eloquently, such art has the ability to cause us to ‘imagine and form an alternative to the ruling order within ourselves and in our world’.

The evocative nature of art can sensitize the viewer to the needs of others, even alerting him to the plight of the people whom he has never met. Art can help us to come to grips with the irrationality of human atrocities and the depths of human suffering.

For example, in Backs Magdelena Abakanowicz, who lived through the horrors of World War II, portrays the prisoners in the concentration camps in World War II, depicting both the atrocities they suffer and the endurance of the human spirit in a way that is truly compelling. Such art in some sense transcends the particularities of culture and history and speaks to the human soul.

Of course, not every piece of art – even good art – does this. But insofar as art is truly in touch with the real – in both its revelation and hiddenness – it has the potential to do so.

And when it does, art acquires that sacramental quality – it becomes the means by which God’s grace is able to make present (to disclose) profound truths about our human condition and about the world in which we have created for ourselves.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 

 

Speaking About God

August 2016 Credo

The Christian faith is premised on the belief that since God has revealed himself, the Church as the recipient of this divine self-disclosure is able to say something true about him. Put differently, Christians believe that their speech about God – in their prayers, worship and sermons – is both objective and true.

This assertion concerning the veracity and truthfulness of the Church’s speech about God has been subjected to attack and ridicule since the Enlightenment, especially in the writings of its more radical spokesmen like the French philosopher and encyclopaedist Baron d’Holbach. In our time, writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – the so-called ‘new atheists’ – have continued this campaign of rubbishing all forms of theological or religious language.

Even the more sympathetic among the modern philosophers have questioned the epistemic significance of much of theological language.

For example, R. M. Hare, writing in the 1960s argues that religious language says nothing objective about reality but only expresses the outlook of the person or community who uses it. While Hare is willing to concede that some theological speech – or bliks as he calls them – may be meaningful, the claims that they make cannot be empirically verified.

Similarly, R. B. Braithwaite argues that religious language does not contain any information about the world, but merely expresses the speaker’s intent. The meaning of a religious claim or assertion, he insists, ‘is given in its use in expressing the asserter’s intention to follow a specified policy of behaviour’.

The Christian understanding of the veracity and truthfulness of the Church’s speech about God is based on the doctrines of creation and revelation.

Christians believe that because God has created the world, the latter can and does reveal or reflect its Creator in some measure and in some significant ways. This means that the world that God has brought into being tells us something about him, just like a work of art or music disclose something about the artist or composer.

This is the general revelation of God in creation.

In addition, as the great Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth has pointed out, in his special revelation in Scripture, God commandeers human words that describe the things of this world in such a way that they are now truly able to speak of him. To put this in another way, in his special revelation God teaches us how we may speak about him by using our words – i.e., human words – to describe his own being and character.

We may therefore say that the Church’s speech about God is authorised by God himself in Scripture.

Both general and special revelation, however, presuppose that human words can be used to speak about God. And this brings us back to fact that God has created the world in such a way that there is a real correspondence between the creation and the Creator.

This of course does not mean that the world is exactly like God, for the Creator is qualitatively different from the creation. However, although creatures can never be said to be exactly like their Creature they do resemble their Creator in some sense.

Thus, the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas could assert that ‘Any creature, in so far as it possesses any perfection, represents God and is like him, for he, being simply and universally perfect has pre-existing in himself the perfections of all his creatures’. This means that the things that are said about the creature can also be said about God, its Creator.

A simple concrete illustration would bring clarity to Aquinas’ dense philosophical argument.

For instance, when we say ‘Solomon is wise’, we are attributing wisdom (which is a perfection) to Solomon. According to Aquinas, that perfection – wisdom – can also be attributed to God since the creature resembles the Creator.

However, a further qualification must be made. Although we can say that both God and Solomon are wise – that they both literally possess wisdom – God’s wisdom and that of Solomon are radically different.

And because of this difference, ‘wisdom’ is not used univocally of God and Solomon, although they both possess that perfection. Neither is ‘wisdom’ used unequivocally because that would suggest that God’s wisdom is not only radically different from that of Solomon, but totally so.

But if that were indeed the case, the assertion that ‘God is wise’ would be meaningless to us because we would have no idea what constitutes divine wisdom, what it looks like.

Human wisdom is therefore analogous with divine wisdom. This means that there are similarities as well as profound dissimilarities between the two.

In addition, God alone possesses true wisdom and all creaturely wisdom, however excellent, is always derived from and therefore dependent upon divine wisdom. This means that words used analogously of God and creatures apply primarily to God and only secondarily to creatures.

Analogy therefore helps us to understand how the Church is able to talk about God with human words. As the English theologian of the last century E.L. Mascall puts it: ‘The function of the doctrine of analogy is not to make it possible for us to talk about God in the future but to explain how it is that we have been able to talk about him all along’.

This doctrine of analogy has important implications for the theological language of the Church.

Because words can be used analogously to describe God and creatures, our statements about God do describe his divine nature (e.g., God is really wise). However, because the words we use for creatures are used of God only analogously, they can never adequately speak of him.

To fail to understand the limitations of our language when it is used for God is to be in danger of idolatry – of creating misleading and harmful distortions by reducing God to our concepts.

The doctrines of creation and revelation show that the Christian’s speech about God is not merely an expression of his existential angst or his attempts at self-projection (Feuerbach). The Christian is able to say something objective and true about God’s being and character.

The doctrine of analogy explains how this is done.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

 

 

Niebuhr in Asia: Christianity and Culture

August 2016 Feature Article

When we speak of ‘culture’, what do we mean? It is a notoriously slippery term, especially so when an Australian is writing for an unseen global readership! Culture can be ‘your culture’, ‘my culture’ or ‘our culture’. It can be as broad or as specific as one wishes. But in order to discuss its relationship with Christianity, we will need a working definition. For its inherent value in this discussion, I consider T.S. Eliot’s definition as powerful: “culture is an incarnation of the religion of the people”.[1] By this, the great poet meant that culture arises from beliefs; it is the offspring of beliefs.

If Eliot is correct, then it is the spiritual capital of a race or nation that forms the backbone of its culture. This can be seen in very explicit ways (in religious architecture, for example). But it can also be extremely integrated and organic in its expression. For example, a culture that holds a high place for children will exhibit different characteristics to one that does not. The set of beliefs in operation in a society concerning an afterlife will be seen to have effects on a culture’s approach to war, environmental issues, health care, and disability.

This paper addresses the way any particular culture—Singaporean, Australian or otherwise—might relate to the Christian faith. This assumes that Christianity is more than a culture, a view that might be challenged by post-metaphysical thinkers. However, it is a widely held feature of almost all Christian traditions that its doctrine is transcendent, and cultural expressions of this faith and practice will vary. For all of its interspersions with the cultures it encounters, Christianity retains a metaphysical heart, proposing answers to worldview questions such as the nature of God, the nature of human beings, the meaning of the world, and the possibility of ultimate justice.

Since the late 18th century, there has been strong interest in connecting the Christian religion with modern culture. A range of philosophers, theologians and cultural theorists have explored how Christianity is, should be, or shouldn’t be, in relationship with a national culture, or a set of cultures. Whilst all of this work remains interesting and pertinent, I have chosen one particular author through whom to shape our discussion.

My point of reference is the well-known work by American theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr. In the 1950s, Niebuhr wrote a very influential short book called Christ and Culture.[2] In it, he posits a series of views concerning how Christianity (by which he means something like ‘the Christian Church in the West’ might relate to the world it found itself in after the second World War. Niebuhr offered a five-part paradigm of relations between the Christians and the culture. Although influenced strongly by existentialism, the post-war mood and Barthian theology, there is ongoing value in his distinctions.

I will use Niebuhr as my background to consider these various ways that Christians in China might consider their ‘stance’ towards the broader culture. I offer these thoughts humbly, as a visitor with a love for Asian culture, and a growing but ‘youthful’ understanding of its wonderful diversity.

Niebuhr’s Five Positions

For Christians, there is an ongoing question about what it means to say “Jesus Christ is Lord” in the present day. Because this statement is both a dogmatic belief, and an expression of eschatological hope, its meaning is complex. Christians follow the theological, ethical and practical teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but do they expect others, of different beliefs, to do so? And do they expect Christian views to gain a hearing in the arenas of politics, morality or business ethics? Furthermore, do Christians expect to participate freely in a culture, or do they expect that their beliefs will exclude them from participation at some (or many) points? Do they deliberately involved themselves in broader cultural pursuits, or do they withdraw to practise their religion as purely and unimpeded as possible?

These are the questions that spurred Niebuhr to construct his five views of how Christianity and culture can relate. Each view deserves brief mention.

First, it is possible to position Christ against culture. If a Christian sees the culture as actively or passively antagonistic to faith, he may see little or no connection between the church and the world outside it. This view is found in the statement from Tertullian, the second century Christian apologist: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” In other words, Tertullian suggests that the worldviews of Christianity and the cultures in which it finds itself, are bound to clash, to be vastly different and incompatible. One of them must move. Often in history, it has been the Christians who have withdrawn from the culture, setting up monastic communities or separate schooling systems. We see this stance today in some areas of bioethics or financial affairs, where Christians may feel a need to separate from the norms of the culture in order to be faithful to Christ.

The second position takes the other extreme, to subscribe to the Christ of culture. Christians holding this view do not feel any significant tensions between the Christian worldview and the culture they inhabit. In this view, Christianity might offer the highest forms of culture and Christians endeavour to blend Christ into culture as a gift of excellence. Christianity is the ‘best of humanity’, it is argued, and therefore to christianize the culture is to improve it; this is the spiritual goal. This position was held by a number of 19th Century liberal Protestants, who saw the task of the church as the civilizing of a culture too influenced by barbaric or pedestrian ideals.

The remaining three positions sit between the first two extremes. It is possible to think of Christ above culture, which is perhaps the most common position taken by the Church throughout Christian history. In this view, Christianity exists beyond any cultural expressions of it, but is a church for the world. Christians become involved in the culture, seeking roles of authority and influence. They have confidence in the Christian worldview as a means of rational and ethical governance of a society, all the while maintaining that there is a reality and a community beyond that of the world, and it is the church. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17; Matt 22:20-22) might be the catchcry of this standpoint.

It is also possible to conceive, rather awkwardly, of Christ and culture in paradox. This view recognizes that Christians are simul justus et peccator (“always just, always a sinner”, a quote from Martin Luther) and therefore are as much part of the culture as they are part of the Church. In this view the culture is corrupt, and Christians are part of that corrupt culture; but they are also forgiven in Christ, held by grace. They live a paradoxical life. They are therefore right to be immersed in the culture as ‘natural man’, but ought to be doing their work there as slaves of Christ, obeying God in the midst of a sinful environment.

Finally, there is a view of Christ transforming culture, held by the original Calvinists. Niebuhr emphasizes (perhaps over-emphasizes) the goodness of the world that God created, and the capacity to return it to the state in which it was created. Thus, Christians enact that journey back to Eden, the return to perfection, as they dwell in the world. So, to build ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Geneva’ or ‘America’ becomes the goal of Christian endeavour. This view is profoundly optimistic in its eschatology. It sees Christian actions in the world as eternally valuable. A less extreme version of this view would see Christians as “inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth”, even if that place will not finally come to be manifest until the return of Jesus Christ.

Contemporary Criticisms of Niebuhr

Niebuhr’s paradigm is extremely helpful as a tool for discussion of these various stances. However, it has come under constant criticism, especially for the nebulous nature of the terms used. North American Christian scholars such as George Marsden and Don Carson have criticized Niebuhr’s understanding of both ‘Christ’ and ‘culture’. Marsden argues that none of Niebuhr’s categories are specific enough to help today’s Christians map their relations with the 21st Century world. For instance, Marsden says there is little to be gained by a broad term such as ‘culture’ rather than specific enquiries into how disciplines and areas of public life such as art, politics, medicine or business might relate to the Christian worldview.

Carson wishes to suggest that the use of biblical theology modifies Niebuhr’s quadrants in a useful way. Whereas Niebuhr posits theoretical stances, Carson argues that the unfolding story of Scripture, with its “non-negotiables of biblical theology”, provides a clearer map of how Christians relate to the world. Through the acknowledgement of the development of God’s relationship with the world—from creation and then the fall into sin, to redemption in Christ and then the promise of a new heavens and new earth—Carson argues that we are given a stronger base on which to make decisions about Christian living.

Christians cannot long think about Christ and culture without reflecting on the fact that this is God’s world, but that this side of the fall this world is simultaneously resplendent with glory and awash with shame, and that every expression of human culture simultaneously discloses that we were made in God’s image and shows itself to be mis-shaped and corroded by human rebellion against God.[3]

Another author, Craig A. Carter, argues that implicit in Niebuhr’s thesis is the view that Christendom is the desirable state of culture, and one that should be restored. “The essence of the idea is the assertion that Western civilization is Christian”.[4] Niebuhr, in Carter’s view, is simply offering various methods by which that restoration might occur. A broader expression of this criticism might be that the West has laboured under the influence of Emperor Constantine’s success in integrating Christian structures and practices into the Roman Empire of the fourth Century. The contemporary Church is questioning whether ‘Constantinianism’ is a desirable project.

Social critics have suggested that Niebuhr’s conception of culture is already infected by modernist distinctions between high and low culture, between European high aesthetics and more grassroots cultural phenomena. In other words, culture is as much Madonna as Mahler, Lady Gaga as Lord Byron. It is football, dancing and gardening as much as it is fine art and classical music.

In summary, Niebuhr has provided an enduring but approximate way of describing the relationship between Christianity and culture. In reflecting on the nature of his thesis, it has struck me that there is no one category to which many Christians would happily subscribe. Most Christians see in each category something important about the way they do, or should, relate to their culture. There may be a way of understanding why this is the case.

A Christological Proposal regarding Christ and Culture

In Christian theology, Jesus plays a central role. In fact Christology is the study of the many and various understandings of him; from teacher (rabbi) to member of the Trinity, to co-Creator, to Son of Man, and so forth, Jesus is the centre of the faith. The Bible passage in Colossians 1:15-20 helps us to see the comprehensive role that is given to Jesus in Christian faith:

15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (New International Version).

Such an all-encompassing vision of Christ’s importance leads me to consider the manner in which He may be central to understanding the relationship between Christians and culture. Could it be that each of the aspects of Niebuhr’s paradigm corresponds with different roles that Jesus Christ is given in the Bible?

Christ is against culture in his role as Judge, declaring what is righteous and shunning evil. Christ is of culture in his humanity, being fully human but bearing divinity at the same time. He is the perfect expression of Man. Christ is above culture in his Lordship, a doctrine that is both contemporary and eschatological for Christians (“now and not yet”), while we wait for his glory to be revealed. And Christ is transforming culture; he began as co-Creator (with the Father and Spirit), and continues as ‘new creator’, the one through whom peace and reconciliation is being achieved.

Where the Church is emulating Christ, it can take on each of these roles in relation to the culture, as is fitting in time and place: judge, full participant, ‘lord’ (or authority), and transforming servant. The only aspect of the Niebuhr paradigm for which such a christological focus doesn’t work is to see Christ and culture in paradox, for this involves the acknowledgement of sin and failure. Where Christians are ‘always just, always sinner’, Christ himself remained perfectly obedient to God. Perhaps this is addressed in a Bible passage such as 2 Corinthians 5:21, which speaks of Christ “becoming sin” for us. This difficult concept (a sinless man who becomes sin but remains perfect) is best understood in terms of substitutionary theory: the sinless Christ substituted for the sinful man, such that Christ is treated as if he were a sinner.

Nevertheless, this particular difficulty with Christ and culture in paradox does not detract from the overall value of analyzing one’s stance towards the culture in terms of whichever role of Christ is most significant for any given time or circumstance.

For example, in assessing an ethical issue, it may be appropriate for the Church to take a stance as ‘judge’ of the culture, critiquing an evil law or process. Or it may be appropriate for Christians to fully participate in a culture, as citizens—for example, as part of an Olympics or a public festival of unity. At times, it will be appropriate for Christians to express the authority of the Church; I would suggest this is the case if a central doctrine of Christianity is being declared illegal or inadmissible. And it is certainly important that Christians act as “salt and light” to transform a culture, offering the good blessings of the Christian worldview to a world in need. An area where this might apply is in contributing to social services.

Overall, it is valuable to reflect christologically on the connection between Christ and culture, to determine, situation by situation, what attitude or stance Christ himself might take to a particular cultural moment or event or issue. This is likely to result in any or all of Niebuhr’s positions being valid and appropriate as a summary of how the Church and the culture might relate.

Building culture

As all governments understand, culture is something that can be built. The construction of culture can take a long time, but it need not. Sometimes, events or decisions shape a culture decisively in a short time period: the events of September 11, 2001 in America changed the country’s culture overnight. Technology changes behaviour rapidly, bringing about new cultural expressions (for example, the iPod very quickly changed the way music was purchased and appreciated).

But, if T.S. Eliot is correct, the deepest changes to culture emerge from changed beliefs. When the Bible informs belief, cultures are affected. This effect can be for the good of the culture; in fact, in every part of the Niebuhr paradigm, the relationship between the Church and the culture is for the good of the culture. Even the ‘Christ against culture’ approach includes a desire that the culture ‘see the light’ so that integration and acceptance might be possible.

An example of the cultural impact of beliefs can be found in India. The caste system in India allows, indeed insists, that not all people are equal. Some are born into situations that label them for life as inferior, even as untouchable. Things that happen to you in life are a result of karma, and history cannot fight the forces of karma, fate, nature or even entrenched culture. Such beliefs flow over into how one treats the sick, whether babies have rights, and whether a person is more valuable than an animal. As Indian Christian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi writes in his book addressing the importance of the Bible for culture-shaping, “Notions of human dignity and rights came to India with Christian education”.[5]

The effects of Christianity on any particular culture will be unique in some elements, and general in others. Christianity contributes to many aspects of a culture, not just a narrow sector of it. The history of the impact of Christianity on a nation is always rich, complex and fascinating. As Christianity continues to grow and develop in Asia, I look forward to seeing how Asian Christians seek to relate to the culture through the wide lens of Christology, in all of its dimensions, and am very happy to be a small part of thinking about how best this can be done.


Dr. Greg Clarke

Dr Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia, the nation’s oldest continuously operating organisation. His doctorate is in literature, and he has published books on a range of topics including the life of Jesus, spirituality in The Da Vinci Code and the Bible’s teaching about the end of the world.


[1] T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, Faber & Faber, London, 1948, p.33. See also his The Idea of a Christian Society, Faber & Faber, London, 1939.

[2]  H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, Harper & Row, New York, 1951.

[3]  D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2008, p.49.

[4]  Craig A. Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective, Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, 2006, p.14.

[5] Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western CIvilisation, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2011, p.66.